The past seven years have been the warmest on record. Furthermore, 19 of the hottest years have occurred since 2000. The rising temperatures are undeniable evidence of climate change. The data from the past decade makes it clear this warming trend will most likely continue.
The high temperatures are a cause of concern for all of us but especially those who are regularly exposed to heat at their job. Despite heat illness being a commonly under-reported event, thousands of workers are affected by it each year. In 2019, 43 workers died from heat illness and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illness in the U.S.
After announcing plans to enhance and expand its current measures to protect workers from the dangers of extreme heat, OSHA has refocused its efforts to bring awareness and reduce the number of heat-related hazards to protect workers. Accordingly, OSHA will increase the number of heat inspections by 100 percent over the past five-year average in more than 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the heat index is 80°F or higher in a given local area. Heat index represents the combined effects of temperature and humidity and is often referred to as the “feels like” temperature.
When the heat index is 80°F or higher, serious occupational heat-related illnesses and injuries occur more frequently. This is especially true in workplaces where unacclimatized workers are performing strenuous tasks without easy access to cool water, or cool/shaded areas when working in direct sunlight, or areas where other radiant heat sources are present.
What is Heat Stress
When workers are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments, the risk of heat stress is significant. Heat stress occurs when the body is not able to regulate its core temperature because it can no longer rid itself of excess heat. As the body’s core temperature rises heart rate increases. If the body’s core temperature isn’t brought down, the person is at risk of fainting or death. Heat-related fatalities are usually the result of exertional heatstroke, where physical activity in hot environments causes the body temperature to reach 104°F or higher. In addition, a person experiencing heat stress is at risk for a loss of concentration or trouble focusing on a task, becoming irritable or sick, and often, losing the desire to hydrate.
Many factors contribute to heat stress such as high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, and strenuous physical activities. Workers who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medication are at an even greater risk for heat stress.
The Dangers of Extreme Heat Exposure in Construction
Heat stress is a major concern in the construction industry because of job site exposure to the elements during the sweltering summer months. Heat stress can be fatal in this industry, so as temperatures rise, heat stress is likely to become a concern for most contractors. Between 1992 and 2016, construction workers accounted for more than 1 out of 3 of all occupational heat-related fatalities. Construction work is very labor-intensive, and the complexities involved such as working high off the ground and with heavy equipment already make it one of the most dangerous industries. The risk of heat stress in the summer season adds to these difficulties.
Extreme heat can affect a worker’s balance, reduce their awareness of dangers in the work environment and slow their reaction time when responding to high-stress situations. All of these can lead to fatal consequences on a construction site. Heat exposure also increases the risk of traumatic injuries resulting from slips, trips, and falls, one of the leading causes of non-fatal worker injuries in construction.
Preventing Heat Stress with Smart Wearables
Everguard's mission is to protect companies' most important assets — their people — with the first proactive technology solution dedicated to industrial sustainability. That solution is Sentri360®. Our Sentri360® system harnesses the power of Worker-Centric AI™, the first artificial intelligence platform to create a conscious environment powered by sensor fusion that senses distress and danger long before a human can.
Utilizing this technology, Sentri360® EHS Wearables are able to collect real-time data relative to a worker’s physiological and biomechanical metrics, in addition to their location as they carry out their tasks on the job site. The data analyzed by our technology sees when a worker is becoming dehydrated, their heart rate is increasing, or they are becoming fatigued, and alerts them to take a break and hydrate with water. Our wearables solution reduces the risk of injury due to heat stress along with dehydration, fatigue, and musculoskeletal disorders resulting from overexertion.
A Safer Future with Wearables
A long day at work in the summer months doesn’t have to be life or death for a worker. As summer temperatures continue to rise, the dangers of extreme heat in the construction industry increase as well. Using new technology, construction companies can combat these risks and keep their workers safe.